Can you believe its 20 years since the release of Rattlesnakes?
Some days it feels like 50 and some days it doesnt seem so long. When you think of 20 years before we started, the Beatles were only just getting started so that makes it seem a long time.
How involved have you been in the re-released Rattlesnakes project?
As hands on as I could be without it taking over my life. Alan Parks, a friend and graphics supervisor at Warners, supervised it so I didnt have to do everything, but its a lot of work. Theres almost not a single element of the pieces that needed to be put together again to re-release Rattlesnakes that Universal hadnt lost. Almost everything.
My initial idea was for it to be very bare bones but there has to be a certain amount of anorak stuff going into those type of records, and Alan said I really think we should get some quotes from the band about the different songs and different memories, so there are a few funny stories on the sleeve and few memories of how we made the record. It is everything we did from 1983 to 1984 before and after making Rattlesnakes.
The original Commotions line-up is getting back together in October for four shows in Dublin, Glasgow, Manchester and London. Are you looking forward to those?
Im looking forward to being in Glasgow and everything being in place and me just being the singer. The fact that the Rattlesnakes 20th anniversary thing is actually happening is something vaguely worth celebrating, I think. If I cant have fun doing this…
Are you having to re-learn the songs to some extent?
Yes absolutely, but its like riding a bike and even though its 17 years since we played them I remember quite a few. Im trying to re-learn some of the vocal lines and go back closer to whats actually on the record. I know what it was like when I saw Bob Dylan sing Like A Rolling Stone and it was unrecognizable and I didnt think it was very clever on his part.
Youre a much better guitarist now than in 1984 so will you stick to how you played on the records?
I cant strum with quite the charming abandon that I did 20 years ago. Ive listened to some of the live things we did and Im all over the place. That might be one of the reasons we were vaguely exciting for a minute in 1984. We just want to play the songs like the record. We found a tape that had Lawrence (Donegan) actually doing some slap bass in 1985 and he said why did nobody punch me? I think they did actually.
How does Rattlesnakes stand up to your ears 20 years on?
Its not something I listen to, but I think it stands up remarkably well better than the other two albums. Its hard to listen to myself sing but I think the arrangements are lovely. Its just a really simple record. I can tell its made in the 80s, but hopefully to the general public it is one of those timeless records. We were certainly trying to be timeless.
What are your memories of making it?
Very limited to be honest. I have a very strange memory; there are huge gaps in it. I can remember singing Patience because it was very difficult. We just did what we did and nobody near us asked us to do anything else, to change the way we played or the way I sang. We had one idea and we did it quite well. I give producer Paul Hardiman immense credit for staying out of the way when he needed to and just letting us make a record and getting good performances out of us. If you have a band that is special, which we were for a minute, youve just got to try and record it.
I spent two weeks trying to find Paul Hardiman recently. For someone who did Rattlesnakes, Lady In Red (Chris de Burgh) and Soul Mining (The The) its strange that nobody can find him. He was so solid and such a great engineer. We wanted him to contribute to the booklet and I wanted him to supervise the remastering. Maybe he just decided to retire.
What are your memories of writing the songs on Rattlesnakes?
Perfect Skin and Forest Fire were written one weekend in the basement, underneath the golf club where we used to live and my parents used to work. Wed got our publishing deal so we bought a Portastudio, a DX7 and a drum machine. I demo-ed both of them that weekend and we had a record deal within a month of that; it was that quick. Every single song on Rattlesnakes was written within a year of the record coming out.
What do you remember of the music world you inhabited in 1984, sparring in the press with Morrissey, Paul Weller etc?
It was just thoroughly exciting to play Liverpool Empire and the Bunnymen would come to the show and youd go out for a drink afterwards. If you grew up reading the New Musical Express, the musical heroes I had spent half their time demolishing other peoples records so I think we thought it was par for the course. It looks very juvenile in retrospect.
Are you hoping the two new releases will stimulate interest in your solo work?
I just hope its not going to damage it. When we decided to do this I pointed out to the other guys that Im the only one who has anything to lose from this going badly. If were crap it could put a nail in my coffin.
I think over the last five years, despite the fact that my records arent selling so many, my position in music has improved. I think Ive gone from being a has-been 80s guy to someone who people say, yeah thats what he does these days, which Im happy with. Id very annoyed if I undermined what has taken a lot of work to build over the last few years.
The Commotions are rehearsing for the shows in Glasgow. When you plug-in the guitars on day one, what will it feel like?
It has the potential for being vaguely emotional I suppose. Ive played since with Neil and Blair and even Stephen one time, but I really dont know. I dont think were overly sentimental people and its not like the Clash getting back together or something.
What are you going to say to Blair (Cowman) about the piano solo on Lost Weekend which you always slag off in your solo shows?
(Laughs) Very good point. I think it has to stay. I cant see any way of doing that song without having the fucking solo. That was the one day I went out of the studio thinking they could do stuff without me being around. I blame Clive Langer more than Blair.
Dealing with the majors again do you think the people in the industry have changed?
No I dont. I think maybe the people in bands are different, but then youth culture changes. The record industry must have been very weird in 1967 compared with 1984. Youre always going to have some people in the industry because they really love music and others who are there because they think they can make a lot of money. I do think, with the way the industry is, that we were incredibly lucky that we got to start when we did. I dont think anythings got any better since 1984.
Youve always encouraged use of the internet and file swapping among your fans and designed your own website. Whats your take on the current debate about downloads?
I think if we were happy to effectively give away singles to sell albums
there should be no problem with mp3s with the same goal in mind. If file
sharing is killing music then I’m the exception to prove the rule. I bought an
an iPod, 6 months ago and since then I’ve bought more new CDs than in the previous three years.
Publication: Music Week
Publication date: 18/10/04